The Cal track and field team will be heading to Westwood this weekend to compete in the Pac-12 Championships at UCLA’s Drake Stadium — the Bears’ first test en route to reaching the NCAA Outdoor Championships. With high hopes, members of the team hope to receive a qualifying mark to move to the next level and win the coveted title.
The Bears will face stiff competition against their conference rivals. Among the competition in the Pac-12, six teams are ahead of the No. 41 Cal men’s team, with No. 4 Oregon, No. 5 Southern California and No. 23 Stanford rounding off the top 25 in the nation. The women are not faring any better, as they rank behind 10 of the Pac-12’s teams, ranking 169 heading to the weekend. As we have seen throughout the 2015 outdoor season, however, the Bears will not go down without a fight.
The 2015 outdoor season showed that this year’s track and field team is just as talented as the one that preceded it. Freshman Bethan Knights and junior Thomas Joyce have had unbelievable seasons with Cal, breaking Cal performance records seemingly at every other meet. Sophomore sprinter Khalfani Muhammad and redshirt junior jumper Jonte Grant have had great seasons that they’ll hope to continue by moving onto Regionals for a second straight year. Of the several Bears who will be competing this weekend, many are in good positions to qualify based on their excellent season.
Tony Sandoval, director of track and field, will be bringing only his best athletes this weekend to give Cal its best chance in competing against the stacked competition the Pac-12 offers.
“This is a final examination,” said Sandoval. “It’s the championships — you need to be ready because all the teams are bringing their very best efforts for this big weekend.”
Athletes who had the opportunity to compete in the Sacramento Open and the USF West Coast Last Chance Meet at San Francisco State last weekend and the Payton Jordan Invitational two weeks ago will have an extra advantage this weekend in Westwood, given that they had the opportunity to squeeze in one last competition. Several distance runners and field athletes competed against top-ranked competition from around the world during the Payton Jordan Invitational, highlighted by junior distance runner Thomas Joyce’s second-place finish in the 5,000-meter.
In Sacramento, juniors Ben Greenwald, Noel Frazier and Jonte Grant started the road to the championships by winning their events in the 400-meter, high jump and long jump, respectively.
Solid performances in the 800-meter at the Last Chance Meet from freshmen Natalie Herberg and Nuria Tio Peig and sophomores Nijae Jones and Katherine Haysbert proved that members of the Cal women’s team are also ready for the Pac-12 Championships.
The men and women will officially look to prove they belong as contenders on the road to the Nationals on Saturday, when the Pac-12 Championships officially begin.
Chris Tril covers track and field. Contact him at [email protected].